Day Trip to Netherlands' Oldest City Nijmegen

Center of Nijmegen
••• Frans Lemmens/Getty Images

More than 2000 years of history attract tourists to Nijmegen, the most populous city in the eastern province of Gelderland, which first cropped up around a Roman military camp in the first century BCE. Nowadays it's both a vibrant university town and site of intense historic interest, with traces of the past strewn within its ancient city walls. Nijmegen is also the perfect introduction to the culturally distinct province of Gelderland, on the German border, with its own special dialects, culinary delicacies, and local folkways.

How to Get to Nijmegen

By plane: Nijmegen is actually a convenient first port of call for tourists en route to Amsterdam, as it's relatively close to two small but well-serviced airports. Weeze Airport, over the German border, is reachable by a dedicated taxi van service (reservations required; 75 minutes); Eindhoven Airport is connected by public bus (line 41) to Eindhoven Station, and further by national train (transfer via Den Bosch). Schiphol (Amsterdam) Airport and Duesseldorf Airports make for additional options.

There are a few direct trains per hour travel from Amsterdam Central Station to Nijmegen (approximately 1.5 hours); see the Dutch Railways site for exact schedule and fare information.

If you wish to drive from Amsterdam, take the A2 southbound to knooppunt (concourse) Deil, then the A15 eastbound to Nijmegen.

What to Do in Nijmegen

Amble the fin-de-siècle Valkhof Park, one of the Netherlands' oldest city parks.

Its lawns harbor the only two extant structures from the former Valkhof Castle, the St. Nicholas Chapel and the ruins of St. Martin's Chapel; the latter is also called the "Barbarossa ruins", as its 12th-century renovation was commissioned by Emperor Barbarossa himself.

See the proof of the city's antiquity at Museum het Valkhof, where finds from the all over Gelderland province attest to a robust settlement from prehistory onwards.

The museum boasts an admirable variety, from Roman-period artifacts to the renowned modern painter Jan Toorop, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions.

Go subterranean at the De Stratemakerstoren (The Road Workers' Tower), a 16th-century defense tower revealed only in 1987. Road workers who doubled as militiamen manned the fortification, hence the name of the tower, where visitors can now roam the labyrinthine trails.

Celebrate African cultural history at the Afrika Museum, which focuses on the arts of sub-Saharan Africa. The wonderful "Buitenmuseum" (outdoor museum) reproduces full-scale examples of the traditional architectures of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, and Mali.

Tulips, windmills and wooden shoes are nice, but one Dutch icon that invariably features in the daily lives of the Dutch is the bicycle. At the Velorama National Bicycle Museum, the history of the iron horse is presented via acquisitions as many as 100-150 years old, as well as other antique bicycle paraphernalia.

Where to Eat in Nijmegen

The local student community ensures that the restaurant scene is diverse, affordable, and up to standard; this makes it a pleasure to pick out restaurants as one meanders the city center.

Cafe de PlakThis cafe with a conscience not only features affordable lunch and dinner menus popular with the local student community, but also donates part of their proceeds towards environmental and social causes.

De Dromaai has some of the best meal deals in town: their "Dromaaimenu" comes in both normal and "enormous" sizes and offers diners an entree, two salads and a side for rock-bottom prices.

A cafe in the truest sense of the word, Cafe de Blonde Pater (Houtstraat 62), its baristas (espresso pullers) often rank in the top ten at the annual Dutch Barista Championships. Have a bite of lunch or a slice of their overstuffed apple pie with your expertly pulled espresso.

Festivals and Events

Nijmeegse Vierdaagse and Zomerfeesten: Like to walk? How about a four-day stroll? That's the premise of the world-famous Nijmeegse Vierdaagse (Four Day Marches) in July, where 45,000 walkers turn out to complete daily routes of 30-50 km.

The concurrent Zomerfeesten (Summer Parties) ensure the walkers a soundtrack of live music and droves of revelers to cheer them on.

FortaRock Festival: This new metal festival returned for its second edition in July 2010, and with stellar line-ups that encompass a variety of styles, we hope it continues on far into the future.

Kermis Nijmegen: Established in 1272, this oldest fun fair in the Netherlands re-appears each fall with more thrill rides, side stalls and, our favorite part, traditional "kraampjes" (small booths) with Dutch snacks.